Welsh Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Rail Freight Group

Executive Summary

Rail Freight Group is pleased to submit this evidence on behalf of the UK rail freight industry.

The submission starts by explaining the commercial and customer contexts in which rail freight operates.

Rail Freight Group’s latest rail freight demand forecasts, covering the next 20 years, are outlined and explained in a Welsh context with reference to recent new flows.

The current capability of the rail network in Wales is reviewed and the barrier it presents to rail freight growth, unless there is significant investment, particularly in “loading gauge” capability, is stressed.

Omission of the rail network in Wales from developments associated with the Strategic Freight Network is highlighted while the need for 24/7 capability is stressed.

Rail freight opportunities arising from extension of current electrification proposals in South Wales, and from electrification in North Wales are discussed.

The need to ensure network capacity for existing and growth freight flows is protected is highlighted.

The need for ever closer alignment of UK and Welsh Government policies is explained.


1. The Rail Freight Group (RFG) is the representative body for the UK rail freight industry. Our objective is to grow the volume of goods moved by rail in a cost effective way. We work to influence Government and transport policies in support of rail freight and to help our members to develop their rail freight services and therefore we welcome this opportunity to submit evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into cross-border road and rail connectivity.

2. Rail freight operates wholly in the private sector and its customers’ needs are often linked to global supply chains and distribution strategies which cross international boundaries. RFG has therefore concentrated this submission on those issues that impact on the movement of rail freight to and from Wales and on those factors which affect RFG members’ decision making. We have not commented on other areas being investigated by the inquiry which are outside RFG’s remit and scope.

3. RFG believes that a competitive, commercially led market place works most effectively for rail freight. Freight movements are based around national and international distribution patterns and on appropriate cost criteria. Companies will only switch routes or modes where it fits, operationally and financially, with their logistics and distribution networks and plans.

Demand Forecasting

4. RFG published its “Updated Rail Freight Demand Forecasts to 2030”1 in October 2011. These forecasts build on previous figures and have been widely accepted within the rail freight industry and by the UK Department for Transport (DfT). The figures indicate an overall doubling of rail freight by 2030, with the growth concentrated in the intermodal sector including deep-sea and short-sea container flows to/from the ports as well as domestic flows.

5. RFG understands that while Wales currently generates some 2% of all UK rail passenger movements it receives or despatches about 15% of all UK rail freight. However, this is almost entirely in the “bulk” sectors, eg coal, metals and aggregates, with very little penetration of the intermodal market except for a limited number of trains each day to/from the Wentloog Terminal in South Wales.

6. There is no reason why the forecast growth in rail freight over the 20 years should be concentrated solely on the existing key routes such as those between Felixstowe and Southampton and the West Midlands, the North West and Scotland. Providing the rail infrastructure offers appropriate capability (axle-loading, loading gauge) and capacity, growth will occur across the network, including the cross-border links with Wales.

7. The new Tesco service between Daventry and Wentloog is an excellent example of how growth can occur in the domestic intermodal market in a Welsh context. Changing to rail fits with the company’s emerging distribution patterns while the availability of appropriate grants jointly from both DfT and the Welsh Government (WG) made the modal switch financially viable.

Current Rail Network Capability for Freight

8. The “Wales Route Utilisation Strategy” published by Network Rail in 2008, shows that while the North and South Wales main lines, plus the Marches Route from Newport to Chester and Crewe, are capable of handling traffic loaded to the maximum axle weight, all these routes plus the lines from South Wales through the Severn Tunnel and to the Midlands have a restricted “loading gauge” that precludes rail movement of many of the larger containers now used in both deep-sea and short-sea shipping unless specialised wagons are used.

9. The “Freight Route Utilisation Strategy” published by Network Rail in 2007 indicated a long term aspiration to enhance the loading gauge capability of the lines from the Severn Tunnel and Gloucester to Cardiff to the “W10” dimensions required to allow 9ft 6ins high containers, increasingly used in both the deep-sea and European markets, to be transported on normal wagons. Extension of this capability westwards to Port Talbot, Swansea or Milford Haven would become an aspiration in the event of a development at any of these locations, as would provision of this capability along the North Wales main line if there were developments at Holyhead.

10. It is therefore clear that the rail network in Wales and across the border with England currently acts as a barrier to rail freight growth. Although the potential for further growth in the “bulk” freight markets cannot be overlooked, for example recent additional flows of timber into Kronospan at Chirk also aided by grants from both DfT and WG, the growth in the intermodal market in Wales will be constrained unless there is significant investment in the rail infrastructure to provide enhanced loading gauge capability. This particularly applies to the potential growth of cross-border intermodal movements to/from the existing major ports in the South East of England as well as growth arising from port developments in South or North Wales or from increased movements directly to/from Europe via the Channel Tunnel. Although 9ft 6ins containers can be moved on special wagons where the loading gauge is less that “W10”, there are only limited numbers of such wagons available and their deployment adds both costs and complexity.

11. The development by DfT and Network Rail of the concept of the Strategic Freight Network, the latest investments in which were announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn 2011 Financial Statement, does not include any enhancements of the Welsh rail network, or cross-border links, which will therefore continue to be constrained, particularly in terms of loading gauge.

12. Equally important is the developing concept of the 24/7 railway which is essential if the service requirements of freight customers are to be achieved. This means that appropriate diversionary routes are identified and kept available in the event that principal freight routes have to be closed for any reason. Again, it is important the principal links to/from and within Wales are protected in this way if the potential for growth is to be achieved.


13. Current plans for electrification of the Great Western main line as far as Cardiff could offer significant benefits to rail freight but also represent a significant lost opportunity. There is a clear synergy between electrification and enhanced loading gauge dimensions as any structures that need to be rebuilt for electrification are reconstructed at the improved gauge, usually “W10”. However, certain structures which would need to be modified for gauge enhancement may not need attention for electrification. As a result the industry is lobbying for gauge clearance to be undertaken in parallel with electrification and funded accordingly. Assuming this is the case, the current constraint on moving containers to/from the ports of Newport and Cardiff as well as the intermodal terminal at Wentloog will be removed.

14. However, based on the present plans the “Relief Lines” between the Severn Tunnel and Cardiff will not be electrified as part of the scheme. This means that electric hauled freight trains will not be able to access the Wentloog terminal, the Tata Works at Llanwern or the ports of Newport and Cardiff. Similarly, unless electrification is extended to Swansea there will be no possibility of electric hauled freight trains accessing the Tata Steelworks at Port Talbot or the ports of Port Talbot and Swansea.

15. RFG is pressing for the electrification programme to include the Relief Lines between the Severn Tunnel and Cardiff as well as the lines west from Cardiff to Swansea. Such additional works are essential to unlock the potential for improved rail freight connectivity and the support of the Committee for these extensions to the existing electrification plans will be extremely valuable. Even though rail freight currently makes little use of electric traction, this will change as a wider electrified network is created on freight routes, providing the adjacent yards and facilities are also electrified and the power supply is sufficient for freight trains.

16. In a similar context, electrification of the North Wales main line, with consequent provision of “W10” gauge capability through to Holyhead, would provide new opportunities for rail freight to and from the port, particularly for the movement of containers, and to other freight terminals that might be established. The potential for viable freight flows along this line to be developed was demonstrated in the March 2011 TAITH report of its North Wales Rail Freight Study which included consideration of a “Landbridge” operation of through freight trains for Irish traffic between Holyhead and France via the Channel Tunnel.

Policy Context

17. In addition to securing improved infrastructure capability for the rail lines connecting with England and serving the main industrial sites, terminals and ports in Wales, it is equally important that the rail network capacity to handle the existing flows as well as the growth in rail freight is protected when plans for upgrades of the track layouts or signalling, and for additional stations and/or passenger services, are being developed. Use of the rail network must always be treated holistically with full consideration given to both passengers and freight.

18. There is also a clear need for ever closer alignment of DfT and WG policies and the recent joint awards of grants for new/additional freight flows are encouraging signs of this co-operation. Which Government controls the funding is not necessarily that important, but it is vital that strategies and decisions on both sides of the border are aligned. Most of the existing rail freight flows in Wales, as well as those that might come from, for example, future port developments in Wales are, and will continue to be, cross border with England. Investment decisions must therefore reflect this reality. It would not make sense, for example, if Welsh ports could not be developed because DfT was unwilling to support any network upgrades required on the English side even though WG would support the enhancements required up to the Border.


19. RFG believes the current rail network in Wales represents a barrier to cross border rail freight connectivity, and that considerable investment in the infrastructure will be required to allow rail to play a full role in serving increased traffic between Wales and England, Ireland and mainland Europe. In particular, investment in the provision of enhanced loading gauge capability will be required if the growth is to come from containerised traffics, although electrification in South Wales and in North Wales could present a significant opportunity in this context.

April 2012

1 http://www.rfg.org.uk/userfiles/file/Rail%20Freight%20Demand%20Forecasts%20to%202030_ver2.pdf

Prepared 5th March 2013